“Is julle **** mal?!” We stared into the cloud of white dust kicked up by the bakkie after it skidded to a halt next to us. “Is this the Tour de France or something?” the farmer asked in utter amazement. “I’m struggling in my bakkie, what the hell are you doing on a bicycle?”
The mercury was inching upwards into the high 40’s, so I guess he had a point. We were in the middle of the Baviaanskloof on day two of the Wild Corridor MTB Tour and a world away from my calm daily commute along the cycle path in Cape Town.
Always up for a challenge I jumped at the chance when the team from the Worx invited me to take part in this adventure. From Plett we took a shuttle to Kareedouw and I immediately got the sense this was not going to be your average cycle tour. We spent the night at the Assegaaibosch Country Lodge, and went to sleep with a full moon and a view of the Kouga mountains rising ominously in the distance. Tomorrow we’d be cycling over it, and I fell asleep with that little voice in the back of my head questioning my sanity.
DAY 1 [75km}
After a hearty breakfast we set off along well maintained district roads and made our way up the pass. After an hour we stopped to take in the view of the Kouga river snaking through the valley below. Then a fast white-knuckle descent ending with a much-needed swim in the cool water, fully clothed, helmet and all.
Feeling rejuvenated we headed up again still soaked from our swim. Five minutes into the climb and we were completely dry. Five more minutes and we were completely soaked again… in sweat. And that seemed the theme for the day - long hot uphill stretches with the reward of amazing views at the top, followed by the type of downhills that a non-mountain biking single speed commuter like myself produces the type of scream that would scare a serial killer.
But I survived, and made it to our lunch stop under a tree on what seemed like an abandoned farm, except for the old stone building with a hand painted sign proclaiming it was the local golf course club house along with a leaderboard of champions.
Lunch was a smorgasbord of food, snacks, drinks, and ice… lots of ice.
Then it was onwards and upwards, and even more upwards. By the late afternoon we had climbed a total of 2 250m, but to end off the days ride we were rewarded with a long winding downhill all the way into the Baviaanskloof and our stopover for the night.
I was prepared to rough it. Small one man tents, sleeping bags, cold uncomfortable nights and boarding school food. But as we rolled into the campsite our bikes were whisked away to get cleaned and serviced. We were shown to our tents pitched next to a small lake.
I looked inside and felt like I’d been upgraded from economy to business class. There was a bed, white linen, duvet, a bedside table, reading lamp, and a chair to sit and take in the view across the lake as the sun set on the horizon.
The evening was spent around the fire, eating, drinking and swopping stories about the day's ride.
DAY 2 [76km]:
We had an early start and made our way through the Baviaanskloof, taking in the amazing rock formations and stopping at any sign of water to swim, and if it wasn’t deep enough, to just roll around like a beached whale until we got wet enough to cool down.
The day was a mix of steep uphills, technical rocky descents and long flat stretches of gravel road disappearing into the heat haze on the horizon. We stopped for lunch just as we made our way up and through the Baviaanskloof Sleutel [Key].
It’s called the key, as it’s said that if the rock falls away from the cliff the Kloof will be locked forever.
The temperature was in the forties, we had a warm headwind, and I was loving every sweat drenched crank grinding minute of the ride. After lunch we headed out for “one more hill” according to Kevin from the Bike Shop in Plett, our host and guide for the tour. After quite a few "one more hills”, we rolled into camp with all the red lights flashing, I dropped my bike, and fell straight into the pool.
Another evening of great food, local entertainment by the “Real Dancers”, and some much needed sleep.
DAY 3 [76km]:
Up at 6am for omelettes, coffee, rusks and porridge. We started the day with “one more hill”, breathtaking scenery, and some fast smooth downhills into Uniondale. A quick stop for cappuccinos and chocolate milk before heading up once again along the old wagon pass.
After lunch we turned off the gravel road onto winding single track along the edge of a ridge looking down onto even more breathtaking views. But that came to a swift end when we got to a very technical section of rocky downhill with the most collar bone shattering potential of the whole trip. I’m not too proud to admit that at this point my sense of self preservation kicked in and I got off and walked down the hill.
And even that was a challenge.
As I struggled down over the loose boulders trying to figure out how anyone could ride down this, Kevin comes riding up to see if I’m okay!
He rode up something I could barely walk down.
He gave me the thumbs up, a few words of encouragement and then I watched him disappear back down the hill, mostly airborne with his tyres making cursory contact with the ground before he got to the bottom where everyone was waiting for me.
Then it was up again for a few more kilometres before a fast smooth downhill to lunch under the trees. Once again the support team was there to welcome us with sumptuous food, cold drinks and encouragement.
From here on it was downhill for twenty exhilarating kilometres winding through Prince Alfred's Pass all the way down to Angies G-Spot for a drink next to the river, and then a short ride to our camp in yet another perfect setting.
DAY 4 [82km]:
An early start with some uphills to get us going, then long sections of jeep track through the forests of Diepwalle to the Garden of Eden, and on to Hakerville. We weaved our way along fast-flowing single track through shady plantations and indigenous forests, and out into a sea of yellow flowers and our lunch stop at the Look Out Point.
And then, with perfect timing, as we sat commenting on how it just couldn’t get any better, a whale breached off in the distance. Not sure how Kevin organised that, but nicely done. Then it was off for the final stretch down into Plett for champagne on the beach and a well deserved swim to end-off a perfect tour.
As I floated in the warm Indian Ocean I thought back to the last four days covering 311kms and 5650m of climbing, no cell phone signal, unbelievable mountain biking trails, the most scenic landscape I’ve ever experienced, swopping war stories at camp each night, and the amazing people who shared the journey with me.
Kevin, from the Bike Shop in Plett, the most down to earth host who loaned me a bike to take on this adventure.
I’m sure he did double the distance, always riding back down hill to give words of encouragement and to assure us there was only one more hill to go! Or riding back up the steep technical sections to make sure everyone got down safely.
There were moments when I was flying down hill, or at least it felt like it. On my absolute limit, squeezing the handlebars so tightly my hands went numb, only to hear the high speed whine of Kevin’s back hub approaching at speed - a flash of orange as he passes smiling, a quick thumbs up to check if you’re okay, and then gone in a cloud of dust on his back wheel off to check on the riders ahead.
Behind the scenes there is an army of support, Bhejane Tours, Under Canvas Events and the team from the Worx. It’s a slick well-oiled operation, with every need catered for. Amazing food, snacks, ice, words of encouragement, and more ice in the 40 degree heat.
The last four days were more than a mountain bike tour… it was shutting off from the outside world, taking time to appreciate our beautiful country, connecting with nature, swimming in rock pools, pushing my body to new limits, achieving something I feel really proud of, and most importantly, making great friends.
This was more than a mountain bike tour, it was a life changing experience I highly recommend.
* Disclaimer: Renato Balona was hosted by Bhejane for the Wild Corridor Mountain Bike experience.